By Alicia Reid
Over the years, Toronto has become a cultural hub for its music production and talent. It’s known as the largest centre for music in Canada, according to the City of Toronto. Artists have created an innovative music scene through different genres, ranging from pop, hip-hop, alternative, R&B, folk and more. Black Torontonian artists like The Weeknd and Drake made contributions to the music industry at large, dominating Billboard charts for the past decade.
The city is producing talented artists who are breaking barriers, setting trends and leaving an impact in the music industry. Last year, Mayor John Tory announced a $2 million partnership to support Black professionals in Toronto’s music industry in partnership with the Slaight Family Foundation and Advance. The fund’s goal is to support Black talent and increase the representation of Black professionals in management and executive roles in the Canadian music industry.
As Toronto’s music scene continues to boom, here are some rising Black artists from Toronto you should keep on your radar.
Also known as Mustafa The Poet, Mustafa Ahmed is from the Regent Park neighbourhood in Toronto. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter has been writing poetry since the age of 12 and has since turned his poetry into music. Last year, Ahmed released his song “Stay Alive” which reflects on life in his community and remembering the friends he lost to gun violence. When writing for his new album, Mustafa described his neighbourhood as a graveyard. “It’s a place where the buildings are being buried, even my memories are being erased by way of gentrification,” he said in an interview with NOW Toronto. His gentle falsetto compliments the folk instrumental in the song bringing a warm-hearted narrative to his community. He repeats the lyrics “stay alive” in the song to symbolize hope for his loved ones and neighbourhood in the south side of Regent Park.
Dylan Sinclair is one of Toronto’s new rising stars whose music will make you want to fall in love. The singer-songwriter started to receive mainstream attention after performing his lead single “Home” on RNB Radar for their series R&B Uncut. Influenced by R&B, neo-soul and gospel music, Sinclair has been singing choir since the age of four. His latest project, Proverbs, has seamless transitions and is filled with sweet melodies of songs about love, sacrifice and faith, which will have you in your feels.
Savannah Ré has a versatile style in R&B music, using different sounds from acoustic, electric and trap, which are accompanied by her outstanding harmonies. Growing up in a Jamaican household in Scarborough, Ré was raised listening to everything from old school dancehall and reggae to rhythm and blues, according to her interview with HYPEBAE. Her debut EP, Opia, includes nine tracks that explore themes of intimacy, vulnerability and honesty. Her latest music video for her song “Solid” showcases her soft vocals over an acoustic guitar ballad directed by Toronto filmmaker Alicia K. Harris.
Hailing from Toronto’s west end, Ebhoni is the definition of a certified badass and her music is guaranteed to shake every room. Her music explores different genres including R&B, alternative, dancehall and pop. Her catalogue is filled with upbeat and feel-good songs that embody confidence and empowerment. She began her career writing music at age 10 when she started uploading covers to YouTube, according to her interview with Pitchfork. She also performed alongside artists like Teyana Taylor at Pride Toronto in 2018. Ebhoni recently released her EP, X, which features the single “X Ting” that sweetly merges dancehall and R&B together.
Once a volleyball player for the UCLA Bruins, Kofi is now an artist from Scarborough working as a producer, rapper and singer. He has produced, mixed and mastered beats for popular artists in Toronto’s hip-hop scene like Pressa, Jayy Brown and Booggz. Releasing music independently through his own platform, Jvngle Music Group, Kofi has established a name for himself in the industry and has received co-signs from famous artists such as Drake, Kardinal Offishall and Preme. Kofi shares his versatility in the latest album 100 Dark Nights, producing songs influenced by afrobeat, trap, hip-hop and R&B. The project also features other up-and-coming Toronto artists like Duvy and Jayy Brown.
Congolese-Canadian singer Lu Kala is the pop star that Canada needs. She’s breaking barriers by not conforming to the R&B sound that record labels sometimes expect to hear from Black singer-songwriters. An outstanding performer with raw energy and a fierce stage presence, Kala’s music is a mix of pop, rock and dance. Her goal as an artist is to create safe spaces for people that look like her and to not be categorized within a single genre. In her interview with Exclaim!, she said that she was inspired by pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and wanted to see more Black women in similar positions. In her debut EP Worthy, she sings about self-love, the ups and downs of relationships and acceptance. Her song “Love Shit” is an upbeat and catchy anthem for anyone who has learned hard lessons from love but is now gaining self-love and is acknowledging their worth.
Haviah Mighty is a hip-hop songwriter that is defying gender roles in a male-dominated industry. Mighty’s music is a combination of rap, dancehall, trap and neo-soul. Born in Toronto and raised in Brampton, growing up in a diverse community has influenced her music. Her debut EP, Flower City pays homage to the Brampton area. In 2019, she was listed on XXL’s “15 Toronto rappers you should know.” That year, she also made history by being the first hip-hop artist and Black woman to win the Polaris Music Prize for her latest album, 13th Floor. Paying tribute to her Caribbean heritage, Mighty released a thrilling music video for the song “Obeah,” which is known as a hostile spiritual practice that is feared in Afro-Caribbean culture. The music video features her father who warns her about certain people in her friendship circle having bad negative energy.